Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Questions Answered

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Source: – Anna Olson

Hi happy Bakers,

Have you guys seen Anna Olson on the food network? I really like her. I especially love how she has a new kitchen aid mixer behind her every recipe she does. I just want to call her up and say “there is no way you can afford a kitchen aid mixer in every color”. I don’t know what she makes but those things are super pricey and it would be crazy to pretend someone would have one in every color. I absolutely love the idea of it though. Well now that I think about it, where would I even keep them? Knowing myself I probably would use all of them at the same time just so I don’t have to wash the bowl halfway through. I looked into buying a new bowl but do you know how much those are? They are like a hundred bucks for a glass bowl. Don’t you think that’s a lot of a simple glass bowl? Well, a glass bowl that fits into the mixer.

I was excited to read a blog post that Anna Olsen did for the website. Let’s take a look at her 10 baking questions answered.

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1. “What size eggs do I use when baking?”

I have to admit this is something I never think about. I just use the eggs I have in the fridge. Which is usually large eggs. I usually just buy what’s on sale. Luckily Ms. Olson said if the recipe does not state what size to use, then it’s best to use large eggs. She says that’s because they have an easy standard measure by weight. She said it’s 2 oz. The yolk in 1 oz and the white part is 1 oz as well. That’s pretty easy to remember right?

2. “Why do baking recipes call for unsalted butter?”

I pretty much always use salted butter. I like the extra salt in the recipes. My blood pressure probably doesn’t but I do. She mentions when you use salted butter you are adding extra butter to the recipe and I totally get that. She made an excellent point that I had never really thought about and that’s when you use salted butter you really just have no idea how much salt you are adding. I never really thought about it like that. I don’t know why but it never really crossed my mind, I just knew I was adding a little more than the recipe.

She also mentioned that unsalted butter is sweeter and fresher tasting and I didn’t know that. That statement alone might really make me try baking with unsalted butter instead of the salted ones. Adding a fresher taste sounds like a great thing for any baking recipe.

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3. “ Why do dessert recipes call for salt? Do I really need to add it?”

I never really thought that adding salt to a dessert menu might be weird to some people. I just thought most recipes would have salt. Salt is used to season like in other recipes she stated. It tempers sweetness and elevates other flavors too she says. When using ingredients like chocolate it really helps balance the tastes on your tongue.

Except for yeast doughs, you can not add the salt but the recipe really just won’t taste the same. In yeast doughs, the salt slows the fermentation which allows flavor and texture to develop slowly.

4. “What’s different between Dutch process and regular cocoa powder?”

I didn’t even know that was something people wondered. Ms. Olson says that Dutch-process cocoa undergoes an alkalizing treatment that removes some of the acidity. It results in a cocoa powder that has a rich, dark color and deep chocolate flavor.

She says the reason a recipe might call for one or the other is how the cocoa interacts with the leaveners. That’s the baking powder and baking soda. She says if a recipe doesn’t say which one to use then you can use either one. I would think most people would have the regular cocoa powder in their cabinets.

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5. “What’s the secret to a good meringue?”

Meringue is egg whites whipped to a fuller volume at room temperature and you add an acid like lemon juice or vinegar. Ms. Olson says it allows the proteins in meringue to stretch, again promoting a greater volume.

I thought it was really interesting that she said you don’t have to whip the egg whites on high, but you can do it on slow too. It will just take longer. That extra time could really be useful if you have other things to do while your eggs are whipping. Also, she mentioned it’s easier to tell what stage your meringue has reached (soft, medium or stiff peak). You know you have soft peaks if the meringue forms a big curl. You have a medium peak if you have a gentle curl and you have a stiff peak if the meringue is upright.

6. “What can I do if I’ve over-whipped my egg whites? Can I still use them?”

I was happy to read this questions because this is something I think about when I’m whipping eggs.

I wonder if there is a point where I have whipped them too much. Now I know you don’t want to over-whip egg whites. There is a point where they have been stretched to their biggest volume. At first, I didn’t understand what that really meant but she went on to explain that means if they have stretched to their biggest volume, when they get into the heat of your oven they will expand further and the bubbles burst. This will collapse your cake or mousse, which means they will collapse under the weight of the ingredients.

Thankfully she does add a tip on what to do if you whip them too far. Just leave the overwhipped eggs to sit for about 15 minutes to rest. She says a liquid will form at the bottom of the bowl. You can then whip them on medium until they point you need them to be. So she says to never throw the overwhipped away because they can be then be saved.

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7. “ When I whip cream and then store it, it collapses after an hour. How can I prevent this?”

Here’s a super easy tip to make sure your whipped cream won’t get to liquid if you are using it on cakes or other desserts. All you have to do is stir in 1 Tbsp of instant skim milk powder to the liquid cream when you start to whip it. She says it actually doesn’t change the taste or texture. It will still hold the shapes when applying to the cake or other types of desserts.

8. “When a recipe calls for couverture or baking chocolate, can I use chocolate chips?”

She says since chocolate chips are meant to be stirred into cookies, brownies, and cakes but since they are manufactured to hold their chip shop they aren’t meant to be melted and folded into cake batters, mousses or frosting. She continues to say that couverture or baking chocolate is meant to do those exact things an work really well in those types of desserts. You can find them in the baking aisle of any grocery stores and come in a variety of quality. Like most ingredients, try to find the best use the best quality chocolates because it will really improve the quality of your desserts. The best way to do this is to take a moment to look at the table and look at the percentage of cocoa.

9. “I have a convection oven – should I bake using the convection fan?”

She says she prefers to bake with the fan off to get a consistent result. The convection fan’s role is the move around the hot air to make thing brown evenly. She says this is great if you are roasting a chicken than it great but it might not be for baking. She always turns it off if she is making things like cakes, cheesecakes, and custards. She says they are too delicate to use the fan.

She says if you want to use the fan, turn the thermostat 12-25F lower to compensate and just for items like crisps, pies, and cookies.

10. When I bake, sometimes my items take longer/less time than the recipe states. Why is that?”

So many things can affect your baking times. The size of your oven, altitude, hot spots in the oven can all affects your baking times. How many times you open the oven, the types of baking materials you use or even the temperature of your ingredients makes a difference. The more you bake with your oven, they more you will learn how to adjust your baking times. For example, if you are using a convection oven, set the temperature to about 25F cooler than the temperature the recipe calls for.

She recommends keeping a thermometer inside your oven to keep an eye on the temperature in the oven. They are super cheap at the grocery store and can be so helpful. It will show you the temperature in the oven vs what you have set the stove temperature too. You then can adjust the setting of your temperature to make the inside of your oven heat the actual temp you want it to reach. If you find out the temperature difference is more than 25F then she says you should call a qualified service person to come to fix your oven so it works a lot better.

She also mentioned if you find your cakes are sinking in the middle while cooking, then that could be a sign that your oven temperature is fluctuating during the baking process. She says this can often be fixed with a calibration.

A few great tips she gave to check the doneness of your oven is to use a tester that is inserted in the center of the cake. If it comes out without batter then it’s ready to come out of the oven. For cookies and squares, you can look at the color/browning of the item. Finally, for the cheesecakes and custards, she recommends using the “jiggle” test to check. She says when you gently move the item the center should still jiggle if the item is done.

Happy Baking Everyone!

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